Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fashioning the Self

by Angela Marzan

Marie Antoinette’s clothing was social currency to her during her life at the Court of Versailles. It oftentimes, like this pouf in support of the American Revolutionaries, had a political agenda as well.

How does one fashion the self? Indeed how does one fashion the political self? Was not, after all, Marie Antoinette merely a young girl, young wife, young mother? Was not Diana, Princess of Wales, the same? And what of Carla Bruni, former beauty queen, now current queen to France’s president? Is she not also just a woman? To define these women is impossible, but to define them through their fashion is dangerous. For clothing, as Oscar Wilde writes, is not a symbol of a nation but rather, it is its own political entity, carrying a power so explosive, for women particularly, that one seldom knows what to do with it. To begin, one must uncover in dress its implications of ladyhood – that ever elusive, surreal embodiment through dress of what it is to be a woman. Then one must regard these marks through history. It is only after that one can begin to witness the place in history that Marie Antoinette, Princess Diana, and Carla Bruni hold. And through an understanding of female dress, on these women in particular, is one finally able to postulate to the why and how of political dress and how it has come to hold such power.

This picture, taken during her tour of India in 1992, reveals the strength and power of Diana, Princess of Wales, as she worked side by side with Mother Teresa to help the poorest of the poor, despite the unraveling of her marriage. All of which, I might add, she did in style.

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